There was a question posed on social media today by a woman who is Deaf. The very short version of the story involved being stopped by Customs and Border Patrol as they returned from Canada. During the encounter they requested that the Agent communicate in writing.
The Agent refused to do so.
The Agent gave verbal commands to the Deaf couple that they did not understand and as the encounter progressed the Agent became more agitated and the Deaf couple more fearful. The power differential is obvious and the turmoil nationally gave them reason to be anxious.
When this woman who is Deaf posted her story she relied heavily on references to Title II of the ADA. I suggested she may wish to frame this under Section 504 as well.
She asked me to explain why I suggested Section 504, as she understood it to be an education law.
I find that Rule 11 applies equally to the Deaf Community as well. This past week I presented a workshop at NAD/RID Region I that covers this very topic (just a side note. I gave an “hour and a half” version of a day long workshop where I physically walk attendees through federal laws like each is its own foreign country, with its own customs and language.
I will post a description of the workshop at the end.
I have submitted this workshop to several regional RID conferences but sadly no takers. NAD attendees and State Associations who have asked me to present it rave about it; its the clearest way to understand how the ADA, Section 504, IDEA and the ACA are similar and how each is markedly DIFFERENT. Anyway…)
I have been asked to post my answer to the question “why 504” on the Rules Blog so more people can see it.
Here is my answer:
“I can’t give you legal advice because I don’t have half enough facts. I am just giving a general idea of the differences and similarities between federal laws so you understand why you may want to look at Section 504 when framing the issue with these facts.
Customs/Border Patrol/ICE/Homeland Security are Federal Executive agencies which is one of the two entities 504 was designed to obligate (the other being any entity or business that accepts federal funds) so it seems 504 would be uniquely applicable.
I would still suggest including Title II in any discussion of a possible complaint you have with an attorney. Title II is good because it requires the agency to give “primary consideration” to the request made by the Deaf person (in this case writing). Understand that because Title II requires “primary consideration” when Section 504 overlaps with Title II, then Section 504 cannot be interpreted to provide less protection than Title II-so it would also require “Primary Consideration.”
However, Title II may have complications in enforcement. The more remote possible issue comes from a case called Tennessee v. Lane (and another case out of Georgia) that seem to indicate that there may be a requirement that you prove a Constitutional violation in order to enforce Title II. As this argument stems from an 11th Amendment conflict it may only be a problem if the State Police, not the Feds as it was according to the facts you laid out, were involved. But with the Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court, almost daily becoming more conservative and less responsive to the rights of individuals it is easy to imagine a Federal Agency making an argument for a more expansive application of the requirement or at least favoring the need for a Constitutional violation; from the brief description you gave I don’t see a Constitutional violation in your case.
Again, the courts have never said you MUST include a Constitutional violation, they have just said that they supported decisions in favor of the person with the disability “because” there was a Constitutional violation. One way or another it’s a possible extra fight you would not need.
The protections of Section 504 are equal in almost every respect to Title II in that Section 504 cannot be interpreted to provide less protection than Title II. In places where Section 504 is not equal to Title II there is an argument that it is better.
504 applies to all Executive Branch agencies and any entity accepting federal funds. As it must be interpreted in equity with (and sometimes better than) the ADA it covers the same ground as Title II but does not have the same possibility of needing to show a Constitutional violation (again the requirement for a Constitutional violation, if it exists at all, likely only applies to actions against States… but better safe than sorry as it were).
The second problem for a Title II action is one of wording and interpretation. Title II says that persons with disabilities are to be given equal access to the “programs, benefits and services” offered by government agencies.
Is the border patrol a benefit to you?
Is being searched a program?
Was searching you a service?
There is case law that goes both ways.
But 504 says:
(a) No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20), shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service (emphasis added).
Applying the facts as you stated them you have a strong case that you were “subjected to discrimination” under the “activity” of Border Patrol conducting a search.
Again. This is not legal advice, just an observation. Talk to a lawyer in your area.
Hope that helps.
(My recent NAD workshop:
Federal Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are complex and confusing. It is vital for both deaf people and interpreters to understand the differences and similarities between, and even within, these laws. It is also vital to know the authorities through which each was passed in order to know which law applies to any specific situation, how a complaint is filed, what is and is not evidence of a violation and what remedies may be available if a violation is proven. There are so many differences it can be hard to keep it all straight! This workshop is presented as a “tour” of the laws as if each was its own country. “Uncle Dale Tours” lays each out like a map of a foreign land and the participants walk through each, see the sights and landmarks unique to each as well as their shared heritage. Each are issued a passport with certain knowledge points needed to earn a “visa” to the next law. It is equally fun and beneficial for the interpreter and community member. [0.125 PS])